Common Scams and Tips

graphic image of scammer

As technology continues to advance and expand, so do scammers, learning new methods to try to steal your money or your identity.  This page includes information on common scams to be aware of and tips that can help keep you safe.

Remember, law enforcement agencies, governments and embassies, as well as other college entities will NEVER ask you to: 

  • Send money via Cash App, Venmo, or any other payment service  
  • Pay for services with gift cards  
  • Pay for services with cryptocurrency  
  • Pay for legal services and show proof you are not involved in international criminal activity such as money laundering or identity theft  
  • US Homeland Security (ICE) will never discuss your immigration or citizenship status, verify your identity over the phone, or ask for money to update records. 

You are not alone. Public Safety is here to support you. Contact us if you believe you’ve been a victim of a scam. 

Types of Scams and Examples

These scams typically involve the scammer calling you and pretending to be from a legitimate company or organization, such as a bank, government agency, or utility company. They may say that there is a problem with your account and that you need to provide them with your personal information or credit card number to fix it. 

  • Embassy/citizenship scams: The scammer will call you and claim to be from your Embassy or US Homeland Security. They may say your personal information is being used to commit crimes and there is a warrant in your name. You will be asked to open a video app and remain monitored on video to prove your innocence. You may also be asked to pay large sums of money for a “bail bond” with the promise it will be returned later.  In these cases, you will be asked to send more and more money until you realize it’s a scam and communication is ended.    
  • Tech support / financial institute scams: The scammer will call you and claim to be from a company. They will say that there is a problem with your computer or account and that you need to give them remote access to fix it. Once they have remote access, they can steal your personal information or install malware on your computer to learn passwords.  
  • IRS scams: The scammer will call you and claim to be from the IRS. They will say that you owe money in taxes and that you need to pay immediately. They may also threaten to arrest you if you don't pay.  

Learn more: 

  • Employment/internship phishing scams: We have seen an increase in email phishing scams involving addresses. Scammers will use a fake (spoofed) email account disguised to look like it is coming from a Columbia professor or another student.  In many cases, the email will be a job offer or work study program.  The scammers will ask you to text a number for immediate enrollment to move the conversation off of the fraud email account.  Some scammers will pretend to review your resume and even give you tasks to start your job.  They will then send you a check and ask you to mobile deposit the funds, before sending part or all of it back via Zelle/Venmo. The check provided to you is in fact funded by another stolen account.  By the time the bank verifies its authenticity and places a hold, you would have already sent funds from your own account which would then be drafted back to the bank due to fraud.   
  • Phishing link scams: Scammers will send you an email that looks like it is from a legitimate company or organization. The email may contain a link that, when clicked, will take you to a fake website that looks like a real website. Once you enter your personal information on the fake website, the scammer can steal it. 
  • Malware scams: The scammer will send you an email that contains an attachment. The attachment may contain malware that can steal your personal information or infect your computer with viruses. 
  • Sweepstakes scams: The scammer will send you an email claiming that you have won a sweepstakes or lottery. They will ask you to provide your personal information or pay a fee to claim your prize. 

Learn more: 

  • Romance Blackmail scams: The scammer may pose as another student or pretend to know people you do, based on similar social media friends/connections.  The scammer will then pretend to have a romantic interest in you and ask to exchange sexual photographs with each other.  Once received, the scammer will then threaten to post the images if you do not send them funds in exchange.   

  • Romance scams: The scammer will create a fake social media profile and pose as a single person who is interested in a romantic relationship. They will build up a relationship with you and then ask you for money slowly over time to help with personal hardships. 

  • Investment scams: The scammer will post ads on social media for investment opportunities that promise high returns.  They may also send you direct messages about these opportunities.  Some scams will ask you to send funds via Venmo/Zelle, while others will have you purchase cryptocurrency in an attempt to evade financial institution regulations.  Once you invest money, the scammer will take it and disappear.   

  • Gift card scams:The scammer will post ads on social media for gift cards that are supposedly being sold at a discount. Once you buy the gift card, the scammer will take the money and not send you the gift card.  In some cases, the gift cards may have been purchased using stolen credit accounts or have already been redeemed.   

Learn more: 

  • Comedy show/concert ticket scams: Scammers will pose as a worker for a particular show or club. and will ask you to pre-purchase tickets for a show at a discounted rate.  In many cases the show is already free and the tickets are fraud.  In other cases, the scammers will try and sell you tickets to a concert or show that is hard to come by. They will tell you the tickets (paper or digital) are real, but they cannot attend and are selling them cheaply. The scammer will gather your Ticketmaster account and pretend to send you the tickets using screenshots of a transfer once you send payment via CashApp/Zelle/Venmo.   

  • Money exchange scams: The scammers will approach you on the street and may ask for assistance with something like directions. They will then tell you they need some cash but their bank card is not working.  The scammers will pretend to send you money via CashApp/Zelle/Venmo, and ask you to take cash out of a nearby ATM machine.  When you realize their funds were never sent, they flee the scene with your cash.   

  • Jewelry exchange scams: The scammers will approach you on the street and engage you in small talk while explaining they need money to travel.  The scammers will show you what appears to be real gold jewelry and ask you to buy it to help fund their trip before they can get to a bank.  The gold jewelry or watches are all counterfeit.   

Learn more:

Tips you can use to avoid being scammed 

  • Never give out your personal information over the phone or email, unless you are sure of the identity of the person you are talking to. 
  • Be suspicious of any email or phone call that asks for your personal information or credit card number. 
  • Do not click on links in emails or text messages from people you don't know. 
  • Be careful about what information you share on social media. 
  • Keep your software up to date. 
  • Use strong passwords and change them regularly. 
  • If you think you have been scammed, you should report it to the authorities and to the company or organization that was impersonated. You should also keep a record of all the information you have about the scam, including the phone number, email address, and website address.